Leading article: The priority must be to tackle the dealers

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The shooting on Sunday of a woman holding a baby at a christening party in south London is another tragic example of the spread of gun crime in this country. It would be shocking even if the victim had not been holding a baby, but there is something especially vile about the circumstances of this shooting. It is too early to know precisely how it came to pass that a celebration was turned into a bloodbath, and whether the victim was specifically targeted and why. But it is not too early to rehearse some of the more obvious lessons from this and other such crimes.

For one thing, we know that banning guns has not worked. After Dunblane, legislation was rushed through to ban handguns. With hindsight, it is clear that, whatever good such legislation may have done - we cannot, of course, count the crimes that have not happened as a result of the ban - the spread of guns, and their availability to those who want them, has barely been hit. The police are fighting a losing battle.

That, however, is no reason to give up the fight. It means, rather, that the police must redouble their efforts to root out guns and the misery they cause. There is, it must be remembered and stated time and again, almost no legitimate reason for anyone to own a gun.

In this vein, it is important that the new focus that is being placed on anti-terror policing does not detract from the equally dangerous threat posed by guns and those who own them. Police resources are finite: when they are allocated to fighting crime, the police - and the Government - must not allow themselves to be so swept along by concerns about terror that they withdraw essential manpower from combating gun crime.

There may none the less be avenues that have not been fully explored and which the new focus on terror could aid. The number of CCTV cameras across the country has, of course, expanded exponentially in recent years. But there are other tools, too, that could be utilised. Just as the police are hunting bomb factories, so too they need to look out for gun factories, such as those that convert replica guns into lethal weapons. The customs authorities also need to be vigilant for imported guns, at the same time as they also look out for the accoutrements of terrorism.

The plain fact is, however, that there are always going to be guns, and crimes such as that perpetrated on Sunday are impossible to stamp out completely. The best that ministers and the police can do is try to reduce the opportunity for gun crime. This means concentrating on those who sell guns in the first place. Sunday's killing must spur renewed efforts to curtail their deadly trade.

Comments